A Talent for Leadership

03 Aug, 2021
by Natascha Zeljko
© André Goerschel

Drahomira Goerschel sees a shift in how we build teams and how we build leaders. Today she is senior manager, digital sales – EMEA Central at ServiceNow, and she has become a leader by setting clear goals for herself. She says identifying high-potential candidates, drawing energy from your surroundings, and having an eye for networking all play into effective team leadership

The expectations for good leadership have changed in the course of the last few years. What do you think makes a good leader?

For me, a good leader is first and foremost someone who stands by their team, knows how to motivate their people, and shows empathy. Personally, I see myself as part of the team. I have to make sure that they understand my decisions. This requires clear and transparent communication with team members: It's the only way to build trust. And that's essential for us to go down a successful path together.

The relationship between managers and employees has also changed dramatically. A good leader must be mindful about the person behind the employee and show a genuine interest. In the past, this was not encouraged at all; people were seen purely in terms of their function, and their superiors ignored their private lives. Lastly, a leader's willingness to learn from their team every day certainly plays a major role as well.

Today, the keyword is work-life balance. Every team member has their own personality, their own hobbies, they need time for themselves. They need space to breathe, and to recharge their batteries before getting back to a shared successful path.

I am glad that we have overcome the idea of leading through fear, and hierarchical thinking.

There’s been a real change in mindset, in more ways than one: In the past, a leader was also someone who (supposedly) knew more than the rest.

There's a good German word for that: Herrschaftswissen, knowledge that allows you to maintain power. Today, we're more concerned with mastering specialized expertise than with using knowledge to maintain the upper hand.

As a team leader, I don't have to know everything. That's not my job. The issues we deal with are too complex now for that. My job is to know who might know, and to connect the right people.

And that brings us to another important quality for leadership: an eye for networking.

To put together a successful team, a leader must have a good internal network, but also a good external one, and above all, they must be good at cultivating it.

We’ve talked about what makes a good team leader. But what makes a good team?

All the best teams I've worked on had one thing in common: They were diverse. There were people with different experiences and backgrounds, and a mix of different age groups.

One factor that’s extremely important for success, especially in heterogeneous groups, is respect. Mutual respect. It starts with the little words "thank you." I always try to remind my team how important those words are. In the hectic pace of day-to-day business, it's easy to forget that. That's why it's so important to get off topic sometimes, to create shared experiences beyond the work itself. For example, by supporting charity campaigns together, or getting involved with the local food bank or animal shelter. It brings new energy to the group.

How do you deal with uneven performances within a team?

That's an interesting question. I think you have to look at it holistically. There are always employees who exceed their goals and those who may not technically achieve theirs – especially in numbers-driven companies, this has been clearly demonstrated. But that doesn't mean the latter haven't contributed to the overall success. Because these team members often support and motivate others and they're important partners to exchange ideas with. So, their individual performance leads to the team’s success, and that's what counts for me.

How do you identify talents with great potential? And once you do, what's the optimal way of promoting them?

You can recognize employees with high potential relatively quickly, by their above-average motivation. They often have a certain – yes, let's call it cockiness. They live by the motto: Challenge me! Bring on the difficult tasks!

They want to be stimulated. You also notice that they're committed to certain projects or take on mentoring roles beyond the scope of their job. In other words, these are usually people with finely tuned social skills. People who look out not only for themselves but for the entire team.

For us at ServiceNow, it's important to define goals together. That's what we do for all team members. We set business and personal goals and discuss them regularly. I think a career needs structure: You have to have an idea of where you want to go. With high-potential employees, it's my job to guide and support them on their path for as long as I can.

That's what I’ve experienced in my career. For example, it was always clear to me that I wanted to work in sales. I started out as a financial services provider, then I really wanted to switch to IT. I was particularly interested in two American software manufacturers, and I actually ended up working with one of them. And today, after various roles, I'm here. In part, I owe that to the many colleagues who have accompanied and supported me along the way.

What else do you need to make your career successful?

It's crucial to find the right people on your journey. A mentor who helps you do the right thing, someone who motivates, listens, and supports you.

But it's just as important to take matters into your own hands. If you don't talk about your goals, nothing will happen. The biggest mistake you can make is waiting for someone to promote you.

Personally, I have always sought and found mentors, even people at the highest level, from whom I could learn a lot.

How do you find the right mentor for you? And how many mentors do you need in your life?

That depends. You can certainly have several mentors for different areas, such as a speaking mentor, a development mentor, and so on. Again, it's good to be proactive and approach people, especially if they’ve made an impression on you. As in many other areas of life, it's a matter of chemistry.

If possible, it makes sense to look for a mentor outside your work environment, because then you can act more freely. This could mean outside your extended team or even outside your company. I would recommend consciously looking for someone from a different department. So, someone from sales should deliberately not look for a salesperson – unless they are two or three levels above you, like the VP or president. And by the way, you can tell that they’re going to be a good mentor if they ask a lot of questions.

Who helped or inspired you along your way?

It wasn't just one person, there were quite a few involved, at very different stages. But there was one key encounter: the VP at a renowned software manufacturer who didn't have a degree, like me. 

That showed me that if you have a strong motivation and a plan, if you put your mind to it and go the extra mile, anything is possible. So, that's what I learned outside of academia.

Are there things you regret? Mistakes you wouldn't make again?

Absolutely. But in retrospect, mistakes are not mistakes at all, but experiences. And these experiences were good and important. They help you to move on, to reflect, and, above all, to learn. Some companies still have to change their business culture: In the past, having experiences like that was considered dramatic. They even got people dismissed, because they were immediately interpreted as a mistake. Back then, you spent all your energy covering things up instead of sharing them with others so that everyone could learn. Those were missed learning opportunities. I'm very happy that at ServiceNow, we allow exactly that: We talk about failed projects and we analyze them.

Where do you draw your energy from?

Our work is so intense, and requires so much concentration, that you definitely need something to balance it out. It can be anything: sports, the dog, the family, cooking, books – it doesn't matter. For me, it's yoga. I have been doing it for a long time, and at some point, I got to the point where I wanted to go deeper and trained to be a yoga teacher. It's my way of recharging my batteries, giving my head new stimuli, and relaxing. Also, you should set specific blockers in your calendar. These microbreaks are important to avoid burning out.

Overall, a lot has changed in the working world. The time of the grueling 9-to-6 day is over.

Today, to a certain extent, we can decide for ourselves at what time we do our work. I don't have to force employees into a time corset and control them – that's another old misconception. On the contrary, there's a growing tendency toward self-exploitation. Many people feel bad even if they just take an hour break.

As a company, you have many younger employees working for you – including GenZers. How do you find this generation?

They really do have a different set of values. They don't necessarily want to own a big car or an expensive watch anymore. Instead, they are purpose-driven. They want to get to the bottom of things, they want to learn and develop. Feedback is enormously important to them. They care about money, but it's not their top priority. That's where they differ from the generations before them.

I see my job as accompanying them on their way and supporting them, so that they make progress, grow through their tasks, and survive in this business in the long term.

What advice would you like to pass on to young women entering the job market today?

Oh, there's so much...

Okay, then let's say the three most important things.

Well, the overall principle is: Own your career. Take things into your own hands. And apply for jobs where you might not meet 100% of the requirements.  That's how self-confident you should and can be as a woman today. Say to yourself, ‘What I can't do at 100% yet, I'll learn.’ Approach people who you're interested in and inspired by, and tell them quite frankly that you'd like to learn from them. To do this you need a strategy, or at least a career plan.

Number two, write down everything you've learned. Keep a mini-diary or a more mundane Word document, it doesn't matter. The main thing is that you can go back and track your development. I've been doing this for a few years now. The first entry was, “first customer quote written.” Then, two weeks later, “Offer accepted.” If you become aware of the path you have taken, you automatically become more self-confident. Know your value!

And number three: Assimilate energy from hobbies, sports, and your family. Close your laptop sometimes. And avoid people who drain your energy – this includes finding the right partner. I know some women who have been held back by their husbands. The good old saying still applies: Keep your eyes open when choosing a partner.

This article is part of a content collaboration between FemaleOneZero and ServiceNow. The ServiceNow platform delivers digital workflows to unlock productivity. It helps your business work smarter and faster, digitalize workflows and run them at scale.

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